Metrics firms bicker over which browser, IE or Chrome, is No. 1

Microsoft returns fire, blasts StatCounter for what it calls 'personal attack' against its head of IE marketing

A pair of Web metrics firms that track browser share have traded sharp blows, with each calling into question the way its rival measures usage as they argue about which browser -- Microsoft's Internet Explorer or Google's Chrome -- is the planet's most popular.

The dispute over usage numbers isn't new: In March, Roger Capriotti, director of IE marketing at Microsoft, made his company's strongest case up to then in support of the data published by Net Applications and dismissed the numbers from Irish metrics company StatCounter because of what he labeled omissions and flaws in the latter's methodology.

Capriotti posted his criticism of StatCounter just a day after that firm announced that Chrome had passed IE for the first time in a single day's tracking.

U.S.-based Net Applications has long claimed that IE remains the world's most-used browser, while StatCounter said that Chrome had edged IE in the month of May to become No. 1.

Net Applications said IE had a 54.1% share in May, while Mozilla's Firefox was No. 2 with 19.7% and Chrome was No. 3 by a slim margin at 19.6%.

Meanwhile, StatCounter said Chrome was in the top spot with 32.4%, while IE was second with 32.1% and Firefox was third with 25.6%.

The clash over methodologies ignored Firefox and concentrated on IE and Chrome.

Two weeks ago, Vince Vizaccarro, head of marketing at Net Applications, emailed Computerworld with a rebuttal to StatCounter's claims that Chrome had replaced IE as the most-used browser.

"IE is still the leader, and it's not even close," said Vizaccarro, citing Net Applications' numbers for May. "[Chrome is] very close to passing Firefox for the number 2 position. But they are not threatening the number 1 position held by IE, and it doesn't look like they will for the foreseeable future."

Vizaccarro wasn't kidding when he said Chrome and Firefox were "very close" last month. The initial Net Applications data, released early on June 1, had Chrome passing Firefox in May. Later that day, however, the company revised its figures and said Firefox had held on to the No. 2 spot.

As part of the June 1 revisions, Net Applications also changed IE's share, boosting it by half a percentage point from the preliminary 53.6% to the final 54.1% for May.

Vizaccarro went into detail about why his company believes its numbers are different from its rival's. His explanations were largely repetitions of the arguments that Capriotti made in March: Net Applications tracks unique users rather than page views -- so it counts each user only once per day per website, rather than giving more-active surfers greater influence. And it weights the data by country.

Microsoft has long cited Net Applications data to tout the success of IE, particularly IE9 running on Windows.

Unlike Net Applications, StatCounter tallies page views, not users, and it doesn't weight those results.

The two methods produce the wildly different numbers, said Vizaccarro, who argued that the page-views approach is susceptible to skewing because it can count the activity of automated bots "designed to influence market share." None of the browser vendors, however, have ever been accused of trying to game the system with bots.

Country weighting gives a more accurate estimate of browser share, said Vizaccarro. Net Applications weights its data to account for the lack of Western insight into browsing habits in nations like China, where IE is the overwhelming favorite.

Browser stats chart
Net Applications has Microsoft's IE far ahead of Google's Chrome, but rival StatCounter claims Chrome passed IE to take the planet's top browser spot. (Data: Net Applications and StatCounter.)
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